Saturday, April 09, 2011

Werner Herzog and Cormac McCarthy Talk Science and Art

I've become addicted to Science Friday broadcasts on NPR and yesterday, the show brought together filmmaker Herzog and writer McCarthy to talk about the intersection of science and art and imagination and observation and hoooo, boy what fun!

You can listen to the interview here. (click on the player in the upper left corner)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

TN Legislators Ban Science in Science Class

The current crop of witless, superstitious legislators vote to keep Science out of Science classes in public school, thanks to Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn.

Welcome to the Monkey House.

The Origin of the Anti-Science Movement.

It's The Economy, Stupid - The Masterful Plan To Avoid Recovery

The dreary theatrical spectacle of a Tea party Congress seeking to lay blame for our economic peril on government spending which the actors claim "must be shut down!!" is a goofball sideshow which will do absolutely nothing to repair and restore the economic life of the United States.

The Tea Party Republicans are acting their hearts out onstage, hoping their performance keeps voters and media distracted as they urgently pound away at the very organization they work for:

the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity held a rally this afternoon across the street from the Capitol, with several dozen right-wing activists on hand to listen to speeches from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and others. The Republican voters chanted, "Shut it down!" during the rally, and every other sign at the rally urged the GOP to shut down the government.

The cause of our economic collapse was not government spending - it's long-festering government policies which holds wealth sacred, eliminates regulation and oversight, discards the worth of workers, and reinforces itself to hold even more power and wealth. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz' book "Freefall" captures the realities of this dilemma:

Throughout the book, Stiglitz emphasises the borderline-jingoistic mentality that pervades much of the financial community. Emboldened by the sense of being “too big to fail”, banks engaged in increasingly risky activities and predatory lending practices. To support these activities, bankers initiated a multi-decade push for deregulation and significantly reduced government involvement in the financial sector. With hundreds of millions of dollars in political contributions, the banking sector was able to wield considerable influence in the political sphere—often at the expense of average citizens. Once the 2008 collapse occurred, bankers were only too happy to reap the rewards of their political “investment” in the form of taxpayer-subsidised bailouts and hefty bonuses. Indeed, Stiglitz deadpans that “a country [i.e., the United States] in which socialism is often treated as an anathema has socialised risk and intervened in markets in unprecedented ways.”

Of course, with their combination of astounding potential rewards, excessive risk-taking, and aggressive virility, major Wall Street finance firms have a tendency to attract and encourage the ethically challenged—the kind of people who are willing to take risks with the assets of others and show little regard to the final outcome. Stiglitz argues that we should not be surprised when markets function in a suboptimal manner; indeed, individuals acting only in their own self-interest are likely to ignore the negative effects of their actions. It should be made clear that Stiglitz is not “anti-capitalist”—far from it. He makes it apparent, however, that we cannot assume that markets will be self-correcting in the absence of a progressive regulatory regime."

And in a must-read new essay in Vanity Fair, Stiglitz lays out precisely the real issues being ignored by the Tea Party Congress and how their plans will maintain a corrupt system:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall."
"But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

BONUS SECTION: Here are some further snapshots of current state of America's middle class (via):

Real unemployment is well over 20%

Average job search time is at an all time high, 39 weeks

Non-discharageable student loan debt is at an all time high, passing total credit card debt

Labor force participation is at 25 year lows

Average household debt is at all time highs

44 million are on food assitance, up 12.8% Y/Y and over 200% since 2001

52 million have no health insurance

Real median household income is down 5% Y/Y

25% of household have 0 or negative net worth

The average American now spends approximately 23 percent of his or her income on food and gas.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

NewsFlash: Eating Food is Addicting!!!

I can verify the fact that eating food is an addiction. I started on food shortly after I was born and I've continued to eat daily, often several times a day, ever since. And yes, I have tried to give it up in the past, but the craving to eat has a real hold on me.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Hamblen County Man's Actions Not Protected "Free Speech" Says TN Supreme Court

A June 24, 2006 anti-immigrant and very emotional rally held in Hamblen County on the lawn of the courthouse drew a massive police presence and one would-be attendee, then 61-year-old Teddy Ray Mitchell, was arrested for disorderly conduct. The case against Mitchell has been moving through the courts for five years and the Tennessee Supreme Court has now issued a ruling in the case, a 4-1 decision that found Mitchell was guilty of disorderly conduct. (The opinion written by Justice Gary Wade is here.)

The photos above, showing a tank-like vehicle and heavily armed police, are from that hot day in June (mentioned previously on this blog here and here). There were snipers on the roof above the crowd as well. Obviously there was a great deal of fear and concern from police, who seemed to be expecting a very dangerous atmosphere at the rally.

Mitchell was first convicted, but an appeals court overturned that verdict and the case went to the State Supreme Court in a break from their usual business. Reporter Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel has a story on the decision here.

The case centered over whether or not Mitchell's conduct was threatening and crossed a line protecting free speech. The court majority says yes. Mitchell was certainly using abusive racial insults towards the police, and police also wanted to bar Mitchell from carrying an American flag into the rally since it was on a large pole which they feared could be "used as a weapon".

A dissenting opinion from the Supreme Court by Justice Sharon Lee says Mitchell's conduct was not disorderly and that he was protected by the right of free speech. Some excerpts from her opinion:

"Anticipating a possible confrontation between pro-immigration and anti-immigration participants at the rally, the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department assembled between eighty and ninety police officers from various police agencies in and around the rally site. The police presence included officers from the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department, the Morristown Police Department, the Sevierville Emergency Rescue Squad, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Most of the officers were in uniform; some were in riot gear, many were in full body armor and carried loaded M-16 weapons; and others carried AK-47 weapons. Police officers were on the ground, snipers on rooftops, and a half-track tank was hidden in the bushes of the courthouse lawn."


"The videos depict a scene where Mr. Mitchell is agitated, but the police officers and bystanders appear undisturbed by Mr. Mitchell’s conduct. Indeed, not a single person testified that he or she felt threatened by Mr. Mitchell.

At this point, an order came across the radio from Officer Weisgarber, who was stationed next to the courthouse, to remove Mr. Mitchell. Officer Weisgarber never saw Mr. Mitchell until after his arrest."


"Although Mr. Mitchell’s conduct was rude and belligerent, the fatal flaw in the State’s case was its failure to establish that Mr. Mitchell’s conduct was violent or threatening."


"After considering the principles in these cases and the evidence in the record before us, I am convinced that the proof was not sufficient to sustain the conviction for disorderly conduct. In vociferously challenging the officers’ authority to deny him permission to enter the rally with his American flag, there is no doubt Mr. Mitchell was rude, loud, and belligerent. However, the entire verbal exchange between the numerous officers and Mr. Mitchell appears to have lasted less than 15 seconds. There was no proof that Mr. Mitchell made any threats of violence. There was no proof that any of the seven police officers at the entrance felt threatened at any time by Mr. Mitchell. There was no proof that Mr. Mitchell committed any act of violence toward any of the police officers or counseled others to do so. Although the State argues that Mr. Mitchell “shook the flag pole and poked Officer Wallen two or three times with the eagle attached to the end of the flag pole,” this argument is simply not supported by the videotapes that captured the entire encounter. Obviously, the jury’s role is to resolve conflicts in the proof; however, the State’s argument that Mr. Mitchell used his flag to poke Officer Wallen in a threatening or violent manner and that this conduct somehow took place outside of the video cameras’ view is sheer conjecture."


"Officers’ mere speculation as to what may have happened was not a basis to arrest Mr. Mitchell for boisterously expressing his views on a matter of public concern. Therefore, I would hold that Mr. Mitchell’s conduct was protected free speech under the First Amendment."

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Tea Party Grows Corporate Government

Despite efforts to prevent elected officials who leave elected office from becoming "Instant Lobbyists", the lobbyists now simply take jobs as the top staffers for elected officials and then proceed to write legislation which is then made law. Most of the recently elected Republican officials in Washington have been loading their offices up with lobbyists:

In many cases, those hiring lobbyists were Tea Party candidates who vowed to end business as usual in Washington. As The Washington Post reported, when Ron Johnson ran against Wisconsin’s Senator Russ Feingold, he accused Mr. Feingold of being “on the side of special interests and lobbyists.” Now that he is a senator, Mr. Johnson has hired as his chief of staff Donald Kent, whose firms have lobbied for casinos, defense industries and homeland security companies."

Southern Beale also notes how "grass roots" groups of just ordinary Americans are really nothing more than highly paid agents of propaganda working at the state and local levels.